Skip NavigationSkip to Primary Content

Cold Weather Safety For Pets

Orange cat with green eyes in the snow with blue scarf

When cold weather strikes, most of us kick up the thermostat and spend most of our time indoors. However, if you are the adventurous type, you may want to bundle up and head out for some wintertime fun that includes your pet. Whether you rent a cabin in the mountains or go for a winter hike, you’ll want to watch out for winter-related pet issues. 

Your pet won’t realize that health-related dangers increase when temperatures drop, so you must ensure they stay protected against cold weather threats. Ensure you know what to watch for and how to keep your pet healthy with this guide from the Mountainside 24/7 Animal Emergency team.

Arthritis and pets

Cold outdoor temperatures and drafty indoor conditions can aggravate arthritis pain and cause affected pets to move more stiffly, hesitate before performing normal activities, or seem lethargic or less interactive. If your arthritic pet seems painful during cold weather, you can help them by providing:

  • Pain medication — Ask your primary veterinarian if prescription arthritis medication would ease your pet’s discomfort and improve their mobility.

  • Supportive bedding — Beds made with warm fabrics and orthopedic foam provide even support for achy joints. Ensure the bed is placed in a draft-free location.

  • Warm outerwear — Look for a jacket, coat, or sweater that covers your pet’s major joints, including the shoulders and hips.

Ice melt-induced injuries and pets

Rock salt and ice melt contain harsh compounds that can irritate or burn your pet’s paws. As with frostbite, these injuries may not appear for several days. Owners will initially notice their pet licking or chewing at one or more paws, followed by limping or restlessness.  

If your dog’s winter exercise regimen includes walking on sidewalks, streets, or other treated paths, consider shortening your excursions or investing in dog boots, or you can simply bathe and dry your pet’s paws when you return home. Check your pet’s paws for redness, irritation, dryness, cracking, or trapped debris and treat minor irritations with moisturizing paw balm or petroleum jelly.

Although rare, pets can experience toxicosis if they ingest ice melt in significant quantities. Excessive salt can disrupt your pet’s electrolyte balance and cause serious illness, including vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and neurologic changes. Use pet-safe ice melt alternatives or store chloride-based products out of your pet’s reach to avoid this risk. 

Ice-related slips and falls and pets

Despite their two additional feet and a lower center of gravity than their owners, pets are still no match for ice. Like us, pets may not realize that surfaces are slick or icy until they’ve already lost their balance and seriously injured their limbs, joints, or spine. Unleashed pets may also venture out onto frozen lakes, ponds, or streams, only to fall through the ice and become trapped.

Protect your pet from icy slips and falls by clearing snow from pet areas and treating walkways and steps with ice melt. Supervise your pet outdoors—especially around frozen lakes or ponds—and attach your dog’s leash to a harness instead of their collar. If your dog does fall, the harness will prevent you from accidentally pulling on their neck and make getting them back on their paws easier.

Frostbite in pets

Frostbite is a skin and tissue injury that can occur anytime the temperature drops below freezing. During cold weather, your pet’s body prioritizes core warming (i.e, the chest and abdomen) and reduces blood flow to their extremities, including the paws, lower limbs, ears, and tail. Without normal circulation providing warmth, the tissues freeze and frostbite occurs.

As in people, frostbite isn’t immediately obvious, and pet owners often don’t notice their pet’s injury until hours or days later. Affected pets’ skin may show visible change (e.g., discoloration), pain, or swelling in the frostbitten area. Pets whose paws are affected may limp, vocalize, or be reluctant to move.

Avoid frostbite injuries by limiting your pet’s time outside during cold weather, dressing them in a jacket, coat, or boots, and monitoring them for discomfort (e.g., shaking, limping, refusing to move). If your pet gets wet outside, gently dry them as soon as possible.

Frostbitten pets are commonly hypothermic (i.e., their body temperature is low), but rewarming must be carefully performed to avoid further injury or shock.  Contact Mountainside 24/7 Animal Emergency for specific instructions. 

Hypothermia in pets

Hypothermia occurs when a pet’s body temperature falls below normal range. As internal temperatures drop, everything in the body slows down, including blood circulation, organ function, heartbeat, and breathing, further accelerating the pet’s falling body temperature. This can ultimately be fatal.

Hypothermia can vary from mild to severe, depending on the pet’s age, health, and exposure. Small and senior pets are most at risk, although hypothermia can affect any  pet.

Hypothermic pets may shiver and shake, trying to generate body heat, and may become lethargic and weak, with pale skin, followed by decreasing heart and respiratory rates as they get colder.

If your pet is hypothermic, gentle rewarming is key. Do not use hot water, air (e.g., a hair dryer), or heating pads, as abrupt temperature changes can cause shock and further injury. Wrap your pet in blankets or towels and immediately contact Mountainside 24/7 Animal Emergency.

Whether your pet loves cold weather or prefers to hibernate until spring, protecting them against winter hazards is vital. However, should an accident happen and your pet needs unexpected care, the Mountainside 24/7 Animal Emergency team is available anytime day or night for urgent and emergent pet health needs.  If your pet needs emergency care, immediately contact us, so our team will be prepared when you arrive.